Secret history of France: Mont St Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel, seen at high tide, from the mainland

Millennium of miracles, faith and tourism: in her series revealing the hidden histories of France’s cultural hotspots, art historian Julia Faiers turns the spotlight on Mont-Saint-Michel

It does not take a genius to understand why Mont-Saint-Michel is one of France’s most iconic tourist destinations, attracting more than 2.5 million visitors every year.

This island off the coast of Normandy, with its gravity-defying abbey, manages to be both ridiculously romantic and to exude the mystical spirituality of its past.

A site of miracles and a pilgrim destination for more than 1,000 years, like Notre-Dame in Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel is part of France’s cultural DNA.

But why is it named after St Michael? A 10th-century text describes how, in 708, the archangel Michael told Aubert, bishop of Avranches, to build him an oratory on a tiny island ...

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